These webpages outline a substantial body of evidence that makes a compelling case in support of the authenticity of the Shroud. However, all this research has been completely overshadowed by the C-14 dating of the Shroud in 1988. This single scientific test, conducted by three radiocarbon laboratories under the supervision of the British Museum, has achieved more publicity than all the other research combined and its conclusion that the cloth dated from the period 1260 AD to 1390 AD reverberated around the world. Professor Hall of Oxford University who announced the result to a UK audience made his views very clear, saying,

There was a multi-million pound business in making forgeries during the fourteenth century. Someone just got a bit of linen, faked it up and flogged it! Professor Edward Hall, Oxford University

However, there were soon claims that the radiocarbon dating project had fallen short of acceptable scientific standards in almost every part of the process, from initial planning through to result analysis and reporting. Several test protocols that had been introduced to ensure the integrity of this test were abandoned, whilst signed commitments to maintain strict secrecy were disregarded by those involved, resulting in widespread media reporting of the outcome of the test before the Church had even been informed. Several scientists found inconsistencies and errors in the published test report and asked the British Museum and the C-14 laboratories to release details of the test data so that their concerns could be addressed. Astonishingly, this request was refused and this test data was kept hidden for twenty-eight years until the British Museum was obliged to publish the details in 2017 following a Freedom of Information request.

Evidence of Contamination

Scientists studying the results quickly discovered some anomalies that caused concern. The three laboratories had run their tests using postage-stamp sized samples cut from a strip measuring approximately 7 cm by 1 cm which had been removed from a corner of the Shroud. This was a corner which had been handled excessively over the years when the Shroud was raised and stretched during public expositions and so was perhaps the worst possible choice of sample location for a C-14 dating test. The results given by the three laboratories were unusual as they indicated that the age increased along the length of the strip. It was very doubtful that a directional age variation of this nature could be due to random measurement errors. The most likely explanation for this type of systematic age variation was that some form of contamination had affected the C-14 measurements.

Several possible causes of this contamination were considered, some of which were unable to withstand close scientific scrutiny. However, there are two possible explanations for the dating anomaly which have retained the support of scientists who have studied the Shroud.

Contamination due to Medieval Repair

This hypothesis was first proposed by an American couple, Joseph Marino and Sue Benford. They weren’t scientists but they had a keen interest in the Turin Shroud and had noticed something strange when examining images of the Shroud. They discovered that the Herringbone pattern that is consistent all over the Shroud was misaligned in the area where the sample was taken. Photographs showing the misaligned weave were sent to three textile experts, without letting them know that they were photos of the Shroud. All agreed that it looked to be a rewoven patch.

They believed this was due to a 16th century repair. If correct, this would mean that the Shroud fragments that were dated consisted of some 1st Century linen, but highly contaminated with 16th century fabric containing cotton that had been expertly dyed to match the colour of the Shroud threads. And since the join of this repair was at an angle in the sample taken for radiocarbon testing, this also explained why the age of the fragments tested by the three laboratories increased along the length of the sample.

Some scientists have found evidence that appears to corroborate these claims, such as coloured encrustations and splices or joins on Shroud threads removed from close to the C-14 sample area. However not everyone is persuaded by the reweave hypothesis. Some have difficulty believing that medieval textile restorers would have had the skills to make an invisible repair which could fool those textile specialists who have closely examined the Shroud in recent times. The evidence in favour of a reweave is strong but not yet powerful enough to convince everyone.

Close up of a spliced thread

Contamination due to Neutron Absorption

Another hypothesis that has received support from some Shroud scientists as an explanation for the unexpected carbon dating result was that it may be due to radiation emitted during the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If radiation was produced during the miraculous event, it could have involved the release of neutrons, causing an increase in the amount of C-14 present in the Shroud. This C-14 increase would have caused the radiocarbon age measurement to give a much younger result than its true age.

This is the same reaction that occurs high in the atmosphere, where powerful cosmic rays from the sun are constantly colliding with molecules, knocking protons off some atoms and neutrons off others. When one of these neutrons strikes a nitrogen atom, it dislodges a proton to create a carbon-14 atom. Of course, we do not know whether the resurrection involved the emission of neutrons but experiments have been conducted using modern linen which confirm that when irradiated with neutrons, the C-14 content of the fabric increases.

Nuclear physicist Robert Rucker had made extensive use of nuclear analysis computer software to perform complex safety calculations throughout his career. He applied his knowledge and skills to model what would happen to the Shroud if neutrons had been released from the body of Jesus Christ whilst lying in a limestone tomb. His model showed that the greatest intensity of radiation would be where the Shroud covered the abdomen and that the intensity reduced towards the feet, which is the area of the cloth selected for the carbon dating sample. His model explained why the C-14 dating measurements gave increasingly older results along the length of the sample strip. It also predicted that if the C-14 sample had instead been taken from the chest area of the Shroud which had received the most intense radiation, the measurements would have given a date of 8500 AD!

Both these hypotheses provide plausible explanations for why the radiocarbon date was completely incompatible with all the other dating evidence which shows the Shroud to be much older. Understandably, the Vatican appears to have no desire to allow any further scientific examinations of this most sacred relic. Unfortunately, a lack of Shroud sample material for study places a huge constraint on scientists who would wish to perform further tests to understand the cause of the dating discrepancy.

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